The Sunday Salon: Bookish Questions

I can’t tell you how happy I am it’s December. Sure, finals season is upon me, but I always get antsy on the last one or two days of a month. I like having a fresh calendar and new wallpapers. But November still lingers, in the best of ways: last month, Lu tagged me with a short reading questionnaire. Why don’t we get started?

Is there anyone in your life who made you a reader? Who influenced your reading?

Since my mother and my brother taught me to read, they made me a reader. I have a very vivid memory of being extremely frustrated with my brother, because I was reading the wrong line in a kid’s biography of Lincoln out loud. He was pointing at a different one, and I didn’t know if he was indicating the line above or below. (Perhaps that’s where my overthinking began…) I don’t remember not being able to read, honestly. In Reading, a History, Alberto Manguel mentions the astonishing moment he could decipher words, but I don’t remember that at all.

As for influences during my childhood, not a lot. My parents had a large library (my dad hoards books), but I never picked up a taste for self-help or travel books. I only really took a shine to The Illustrated Book of Myths and Understanding Other People. (The latter had brittle, flaky pages and some rather alarming views on gender and homosexuality. Luckily, I was so thick I didn’t internalize them.) But for the most part, it was negative influence—not negative in the sense that they tried to discourage my reading; far from it! But, rather, that they occasionally tried to police my reading. My mother demanded I read Silas Marner on one occasion and Anna Karenina on another; to this day, I remember nothing of either text. And I once left a copy of Lit Riffs, which they had bought for me, on the table when I went to the bathroom; by the time I got back, they were paging through it. I never got it back. But other than those memorable instances, I was pretty much left to my own devices to select my reading, which is why I’m a literary omnivore today.

Name one experience you had reading that changed your perspective on something.

Oh, that’s most of the time. Books are how I learn; I’m a visually focused and very independent learner—study groups never worked for me and I hated group projects. (Who doesn’t?) I’ll cheat and give you three. Zombie Spaceship Wasteland changed how I saw Oswalt and comedians in general; combined with The Nerdist and Russell Brand, I started to see where comedy comes from, and it’s the same hurt place that allows Oswalt the beautiful, righteous fury that motivates the memoir half of the book. The Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock and Roll changed my outlook on rock in general; my childhood readings and obsessions never leaned towards music (despite nine years of piano), so my popular music education was incredibly spotty. But learning the history of it has definitely given structure to my current musical explorations. (Which, as Cass knows, is currently Vixen. What is this shame you speak of?) Natalie Angier’s Woman made me reconsider the biologically female body to the point that I’m looking forward to my crone years. And that’s just the very tip of the iceberg!

What was the most beautiful reading experience you had?

I’m tempted to say the experience of reading my vintage copy of The Once and Future King, but all my delight derived from imagining the young woman who bought the copy in the sixties and undoubtedly read it outside, in the sunshine, rather than the book itself, which I didn’t care for. A Clash of Kings is a contender as well; home for the holidays, I spent an entire day sprawled in a square of sunlight reading. And then reading The Sundering, where I would tell myself firmly to go to sleep, but would find myself with the book open and the light on, was delightful, too. Since I usually have to read on the run (some things never change!), I really value being able to stop and push through a book in one go. But the most beautiful reading experience I have is usually the one I’m having, to be utterly saccharine.

If you could have any all-consuming hobby other than reading and blogging, what would it be?

Other than reading and blogging, I also cook and costume. I love collecting recipes and testing them out on friends and family; over Thanksgiving, I devised pumpkin coffee muffins, but they need another go before I give ‘em a shot. I also made most of Thanksgiving dinner, including a bittersweet chocolate and pear cake that is utterly divine. Costuming is pretty relaxed, since it goes in fits and spurts, but I really love the challenge of selecting characters and making recognizable costumes on my limited budget. Currently, my Fili costume hangs in my closet, so very ready for the midnight showing of The Hobbit. (It’s this Thursday! I can barely contain myself.)

I try to be very precise with my time management, to get in all my work, but if there was one hobby I wish I had more time in the day for, it’s film. I tease my cinephile friend Natalya that at least her texts have running times, but I have the luxury of being able to squeeze in fifty pages here and there throughout my day. I’m trying to gradually get a feel for the medium, but it’s coming. Music, luckily, can be played as I’m doing other things.

Tell me your favorite song right now. (Totally selfish – I would like new music to listen to.)

At this very second (I am incredibly fickle with music), it’s Ellie Goulding’s “Only You“. It was recently featured on the A. V. Club’s new feature, Hear This, and I didn’t believe Genevieve Koski when she said that it was catchier than Goulding’s “Lights”, which I’m fairly lukewarm towards. But “Only You” has been an earworm like no other for me; I’ve been humming the vocal that loops through it, and the beat is glorious. Other correct answers include Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ “There She Goes, My Beautiful World”, a blisteringly bright love song from the king of murder ballads, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros’ “Home”, a heartfelt seventies folk pastiche complete with spoken section, Wheatus’ “Teenage Dirtbag”, which gloriously wallows in outcast status in its story of outsider loving popular girl instead of bemoaning it, and the New York Dolls’ “Personality Crisis” or “Trash”, incredibly danceable proto-punk. I should mention that I love Ke$ha. A lot of her songs feel a little two-faced, with the disconnect between verse and chorus (for example, the slack-jawed cruelty of “Dinosaur“‘s rapped verses is saved by the charmingly sarcastic whistled chorus), but her weird duet with Iggy Pop off her latest album, “Dirty Love“, sees her brattiness evolve into a cohesive, snarling, threatening id.

As you can see, I could go on for days.

Which character have you most identified with? The one character who, when you read about them, seemed eerily similar to you?

Holden Caulfield; I go into a lot of detail about this in my review of Catcher in the Rye. I’m not that girl (well, wombat, let’s be real here) anymore, thank God, but to see her raise her angry, ghostly little head in literature was definitely eerie, since people rarely let their teenage protagonists be so fearful and spiteful. Otherwise, I tend to identify willy-nilly with characters, regardless of how actually similar they are to me, but the most important is probably Kitty Braden, from the film adaptation of Breakfast on Pluto, for her indomitable will, wit, and power to reshape the world around her through story. If Holden is my past, Kitty is, I hope, my future.

Because I want everyone to answer Claire’s final question: What is your favorite poem right now?

I don’t have one.

I’m not a poetry person; I mean, I do write the stuff, under the supreme impression I am doing it wrong (too prose-y, according to my last—and only—creative writing professor), but I tend to feel more impact with poetic language embedded in prose than in poetry itself. Story over style, I suppose. I’m not adverse to the stuff at all, but there aren’t any poems in my commonplace book. If this seems like a awful state of affairs, recommend me some, by all means!

Rather, I’ll give you my favorite poetic song at this very second (fickle, remember?). It’s Of Monsters and Men’s “Little Talks”, about a woman hallucinating the ghost of her lover (in my estimation). Its tension is just fantastic, and the chorus is just perfect. (They actually just rolled through Atlanta, although I didn’t manage to get a ticket. Boo!) Other correct answers include Laura Marling’s “Devil’s Spoke” (particularly Devil’s Spoke/Sneh Ko Marg”), with its hypnotic beat and sarcasm (“Have you come here to rescue me?”) and Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla”, because Eric Clapton will force you down onto your knees with the sheer power of his pain.

This week was my last full week of classes! I have two papers and two finals, but given that one of them is my senior thesis that I’ve been working on all semester, that’s one paper and two finals. As you can imagine, I’ve not made much progress in reading, although I am juggling The Phantom of the Opera and Gentlemen of the Road at this point. Soon enough, I’ll be home for the holidays and raiding that library system, so I can’t really pick up anything new right now.

TheOneRing.Net is giving away a frankly amazing The Hobbit prize pack until the eighteenth.

Lu tagged most of the people I wanted to tag, so I’ll open this up to the floor—pick a question and answer it in the comments below!

4 thoughts on “The Sunday Salon: Bookish Questions

  1. I love “Little Talks”! I’m trying to learn to play it on my guitar — the chords are pretty simple so I just have to figure out the strumming patterns and how not to lose track of which verse I’m on. :p

    Don’t you wish you COULD remember the moment when words started making sense to you? Like you, I have no memory of not being able to read. I have memories that occur before I’m able to read, and have books in them, but even in those memories I don’t feel any boundaries between myself and the books. Reading is so important to me; it would be great to be able to recall a time before that was the case.

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